Best Care Practices for Seniors with Dementia and Cognitive Impairment
Dr. Christopher Zambakari, B.S., MBA, M.I.S., LP.D.
Owner/Operator; Desert Haven Home Care, Apollo Residential Assisted Living, Villa Fiore Assisted Living-Prescott Valley
Under a single home care umbrella, Desert Haven Home Care, Apollo Residential Assisted Living, and Villa Fiore Assisted Living-Prescott feature unparalleled care, feature unparalleled care, service and advocacy in the compassionate treatment of senior citizens in need of medical attention. Offered in a familial setting, the facilities are teamed by professionals passionate about their work and fully engaged in the welfare of residents. Each facility proudly provides patient-centric supervisory, assisted and directed care, short-term respite stays and memory care support for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.
The following exploration of key strategies in dementia care – and the importance of high-quality medical attention – is one in a series of regular informational blogs related to the field of service, care and the treatment of our elderly.
Editor’s note: It is important to clarify that dementia is not a specific disease but rather a general term referencing loss of memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking abilities. Notes Ability Central, a California-based nonprofit assisting families and caregivers, dementia is a group of symptoms caused by other conditions, and Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, contributing to 60-70 percent of all dementia cases. Other forms of dementia include Lewy body, frontotemporal, Huntington’s, mixed dementia and vascular.
Caring for seniors with dementia and cognitive impairment requires specialized knowledge and a compassionate approach. As owner and operator of three assisted living care facilities in Arizona – Desert Haven Home Care in Phoenix, Apollo Residential Assisted Living in Glendale, and Villa Fiore Assisted Living-Prescott Valley – I am familiar with the high demand for residential-based care for dementia patients. While I feel privileged to work closely with both our residents and my professional team of caregivers, I know, sadly, there are far too many of our treasured senior citizens who suffer from this debilitating disease. Because of the high number in need, it is crucial to implement best practices – across the industry and within each care setting – to do everything possible to ensure the well-being and quality of life for these individuals. Just as important are the steps necessary to inform and educate – and reassure – those in caregiving roles.
Dementia is a killer, make no mistake. This horrible neurological disease cheats many seniors out of quality of life in their so-called “golden years.” The cognitive impediments inherent in dementia make everyday life nearly impossible without passionate care and attention. However, given the tools of knowledge and the support of a loving network of family, friends, associates and professionals, your care for a stricken senior – maybe a loved one – can be managed for the best-case quality-of-life outcomes.
Below, I have identified some of the ways caregivers can help to make the dementia journey less painful – for the patient as well as the one providing care.
Understanding the unique needs: Dementia is a progressive condition that affects memory, cognitive abilities and behavior. In Arizona, as many as .150,000 of the state’s residents suffer from a form of dementia. Each of these victims has special needs. What we call “person-centered care” at our three facilities is where the bar is set, at a minimum.
Person-centered care begins with a meaningful emphasis on the importance of caring for all aspects of a person’s well-being, including social, mental, emotional and spiritual needs – above and beyond diagnoses and physical and medical needs. What does such an emphasis look like? Certainly, it includes shared decision-making, suggests the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – including the patient in the conversation surrounding care planning. Those with mild to moderate dementia should be encouraged to participate in decisions regarding their treatment, daily care, activities and place of residence. Give them a feeling of ownership and reduce their confusion and anxiety.
By learning and recognizing the needs of a dementia patient, only then can we ensure a supportive environment, one that fosters safety, engagement and a sense of familiarity and comfort.
Person-centered care: As I have noted above, person-centered care should be the foundational DNA of any assisted living residential setting. It should be the focus of caregiving. This critical approach to caring for a dementia patient sets a priority focus on individualized care plans, tailored activities and meaningful interactions that promote a sense of ownership, purpose and dignity. At our three homes in Arizona, our person-centered approach is not only time tested, it is an evidence-based way of providing individualized and respectful service that fosters normalcy, choice, purpose, belonging, security and strengths.
The Alzheimer’s Association stresses such person-centered care in the advice and programs it provides caregivers and treatment centers. In the organization’s presentation, “Building a Person-centered Culture for Dementia Care,” among the benefits of personalized practice are movement and exercise, therapeutic smells, light and lighting, sound, outdoor time and sensory stimulation.
Specialized memory care programs: At Desert Haven, Apollo and Villa Fiore, our team of caregivers focuses on specialized memory care programs that offer structured activities and therapies designed to stimulate cognitive function and memory recall. These programs often include memory games, music therapy, art therapy and reminiscence therapy, which can have a positive impact on seniors with dementia.
It is important when creating such programs to build in the success factor, which will depend in large part on the activities’ ability to facilitate person-centered care; again, the addressing of specific needs, interests, abilities and preferences of the patient must be the foundation of a facility’s specialized memory care programs.
Person-centered care should be the foundational DNA of any assisted living residential setting.
Safe and secure environment: Creating a safe and secure environment is crucial for seniors with dementia. Secured entrances, monitored wandering areas and safety protocols to prevent accidents are each an important part of the mix that ensures the greatest level of safety in a care home setting.
A safe and secure environment begins with the understanding that a residential care setting can be – by nature of its population – a dangerous environment. Falls, bumps and bruises are exaggerated and more serious. Medication-related events, wound infections and the behavioral or mental health issues associated with dementia are all problematic, and must be guarded against. In fact, monitoring, adaptation and response strategies must be at the forefront of residential care; a proactive approach wins the day. With a person-centered approach to care, knowing the patient – their needs and interests and activities – is one way to anticipate trouble.
Trained and compassionate staff: The caregiving team at each of the three Arizona assisted living residences I have referenced earlier, is made up of professionals, certified practitioners and trained managers. Each member is a skilled communicator and a compassionate caregiver with the ability to effectively interact with our residents, manage challenging behaviors and provide emotional support to our seniors with dementia.
As a caregiver to a dementia patient, you may experience all or parts of dementia’s progression. It is important to understand and recognize some of the communications challenges you will encounter. The Alzheimer’s Association lists these: difficulty finding the right words or using familiar words repeatedly; difficulty organizing words logically or reverting to one’s native language; losing the train of thought or speaking less often. Any or all of these will occur throughout the progression.
Medication management: Understanding the purpose and proper use of medications is paramount in their safe ingestion. This becomes even more critical in the care of a patient with dementia. Seniors with dementia often require assistance with medication management. In person-centered care, additional measures are often necessary to ensure medications are taken as directed. A plan to safely manage prescriptions and over-the-counter medications will help to reduce and even avoid altogether medication-related problems.
Because people with dementia may be under the care of more than one doctor, it is critical that each one involved in the care be aware of a patient’s medications, including vitamins and supplements. As a caregiver, you must become familiar with your patient’s medications, including the name, the dosage, the frequency and the side effects. If you see signs of side effects, let the doctor know.
Caring for seniors with dementia and cognitive impairment requires specialized knowledge and a compassionate approach.
Oh, yes, there’s more: Caring for someone with dementia is challenging. The disease does not allow for sugar coating. The above are only a handful of responsibilities faced by caregivers in their attention to their patients; a familiarity with each helps at nearly every step of the care cycle. As I have noted in a previous blog, working closely with agencies and organizations, governmental entities and medical facilities, I have found any number of sources containing proven advice for caregivers, as well as support opportunities: the Alzheimer’s Association Desert Southwest Chapter provides a range of services and programs, the Arizona Department of Health Services offers dementia caregiver support, and the city of Phoenix is a designated “Dementia Friendly City” and offers regular “Memory Café” events – virtually and in-person – for both patents and caregivers alike. Other associations can be found through a simple Google search.
When you need help, get it
I’ve said it before, in different ways: Caregiving for one with dementia is not for the faint of heart. As evidence of this, more and more family members and loved ones are turning to professional are teams for help, for relief from the challenges and the time-consuming responsibilities of that care – there are more patients in need than there are rooms for their care. But, by doing your homework, by researching the many options at hand, and by including your dementia patient in the decision-making process, there may be help around the corner.
At Desert Haven, Apollo and Villa Fiore, we offer specialized, person-centered care for seniors with dementia and cognitive impairment. By implementing proven, time-tested industry best practices, our facilities prioritize the well-being and quality of life of their residents. We provide essential support, ensuring that seniors with dementia receive the care they need while maintaining their dignity and independence. If you have a loved one with dementia, considering assisted living facilities that specialize in dementia care can provide peace of mind and the assurance that your loved one will receive the highest quality of care.
When you need help, call us. To learn more about our services, please contact us at email@example.com
About the Author
Dr. Christopher Zambakari is the owner and operator of three Arizona-based assisted living care homes – Desert Haven Home Care in Phoenix, Apollo Residential Assisted Living in Glendale, and Villa Fiore Assisted Living in Prescott Valley, Arizona. He provides direction and oversight to a team of licensed medical and caregiving professionals to ensure the highest levels of customized care, service and advocacy at each of his facilities. Zambakari is founder and CEO of The Zambakari Advisory, an international consultancy in the areas of strategic intelligence, program design and transitional processes. He is a Hartley B. and Ruth B. Barker Endowed Rotary Peace Fellow, and the assistant editor of the Bulletin of The Sudans Studies Association.